While communities from Ballard to Tacoma wait longer for their promised light-rail projects, Sound Transit has budgeted $240 million to accelerate a North Seattle station surrounded by minimal housing and jobs.
The site at Northeast 130th Street is hemmed in by Interstate 5, wooded Northacres Park, a golf course and blocks of quiet single-family homes with more Douglas firs than sidewalks.
Supporters, including Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez and ex-Mayor Jenny Durkan, have said for years that the station becoming a sure thing will release pent-up political energy to encourage more housing.
The board’s budget approval set a timeline of spring 2026, moving up the 2031 goal listed in campaign materials when voters approved the ST3 tax increases of 2016.
The question is, will leaders act to avoid the debacle of a mostly empty aerial station, and bring thousands of riders to what’s now an isolated site? Northeast 130th Street Station is a test of political resolve, as $142 billion from regional taxpayers is invested over a quarter century to build and operate bus and light-rail lines that are supposed to carry 750,000 passengers throughout the region.
During a unanimous vote for the $240 million on June 23, transit-board member Claudia Balducci of Bellevue said despite soaring costs, there’s a benefit to building the station now. Balducci, who chairs the System Expansion Committee, said doing so would avoid future construction interrupting trains between Northgate and Lynnwood.
Sound Transit’s initial plan in 2015 skipped 130th. The station survived mainly through the persistence of Juarez, who represents North Seattle’s District 5 and joined the transit board in 2019. She views the stop as a matter of social equity for the north side’s influx of people of color and lower-income families. As people continue moving to the Lake City area a couple miles east and Bitter Lake to the west, Juarez hopes more crosstown buses will deliver them to the new train stop.
“These are people that may not necessarily have a car, and want to take light rail. We need to keep middle-class housing in Seattle,” she said in 2020.
Starting over, again
The city has yet to legalize more housing around Northeast 130th, unlike suburban Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood, where trains will roll in late 2024, on a $3.3 billion, 8½-mile corridor.
Mayor Bruce Harrell went back to the drawing board, announcing a citywide “One Seattle Comprehensive Plan Major Update,” due in 2024. A first round of online public feedback is underway until Aug. 22. This comes after a 2016 plan in which then–Mayor Ed Murray’s up-zone concepts were diluted to a “potential village” at 130th. Last year, the Durkan administration proposed an “early action limited rezone” of a mere one block, or about 32 lots that might change to retail, apartments or town homes.
Contractors have already built extra columns to support a station. Meanwhile, station estimates rose from $80 million to $144 million in 2020, and $223 million this spring.
Escape from budget cuts
Last year, the board delayed many ST3 project schedules due to inflation, a slow planning process and bad estimates. Downtown Everett’s light-rail station slipped from 2037 to 2041, and a Ballard station was postponed from 2037 to 2039.
Kenmore Councilmember David Baker, a transit-board member, called Northeast 130th Station “useless” during those tense debates. He was frustrated about delays to Highway 522 bus-rapid transit and parking spaces to serve Bothell, Kenmore and Lake Forest Park.
“My opinion is still the same,” Baker said last month. “Seattle has known about this since 2015 when they decided to put it on the ballot. They have not up-zoned. They have not done anything to increase the density to support it,” he said.
Seattle planning staff are studying a half-mile walkable area around the station for possible housing. There’s currently “little potential for redevelopment” under current zoning, they reported last year.
They issued three broad descriptions in June for public comment:
- Avoid redevelopment in the area while limiting houses to 30 feet high;
- Focus growth near the station with a few 80-foot-tall buildings of shops and apartments, plus some 40-foot housing along bus routes;
- Create “a new urban village” with buildings up to 95 feet tall, apartments near bus stops, plus triplexes and fourplexes on side streets. “It would be like the development around the Roosevelt light rail station,” said Patrice Carroll, North Seattle station specialist for the Office of Planning and Community Development.
The whole Jackson Park Golf Course and trails will be preserved, the city says.
The Seattle Department of Transportation has drawn concept plans featuring a walkway from the station to apartments a half-mile away on 15th Avenue Northeast. Sound Transit warned those would result in additional costs.
Sound Transit predicted in 2015 the station would add a mere 1,500 daily riders to the regional system, but 3,350 would catch trains there, most of whom would otherwise use Northgate Station or Shoreline South/148th Station. An early-2021 update gave a similar range of 3,300 to 3,700 predicted boardings. The current range is 3,100 to 4,600 estimated boardings, assuming fast regional growth and bus connections, the agency said Tuesday.
“The advocates tell us it’s going to be busy because of this development that’s going to happen around there. My hope is they’re absolutely right,” said transit-board Chair Kent Keel, of University Place near Tacoma. “I joke that housing is Sound Transit’s side hustle.”
Some multi-unit buildings exist already, in a thin strip bordering diagonal Roosevelt Way Northeast. Frank Prien, a longtime real estate broker there, predicts “they’ll have six or seven stories. I’m happy to see them do it.”
Monica Rivas, a customer at Vasuda Salon on 15th, said she would drive from Issaquah to South Bellevue Park-and-Ride, catch a train up to north Seattle, and walk the last half-mile, for the expert care stylists give her black, partly curly hair. She arrived late for the appointment Friday after traffic jams on two freeways. “Mass transit is where it’s at,” she said.
Neighbors think growth is inevitable, or even approved already.
Dan Remke, two houses from the line, said he’s glad to hear a 2026 station opening is nailed down.
“I think we should probably have apartment complexes 15 to 20 stories high,” he said, “and we definitely need more housing in our area. We like this house, we don’t want to leave the area, but there’s no reason to fight the progression.”
Across the cul-de-sac, Tomas Lemus said he hopes Sound Transit won’t condemn his land to stage construction machines and materials. (Eighty percent of whatever surplus land Sound Transit holds must be converted to subsidized housing, by law.)
He’d rather sell to developers for a higher price, but, he said, “If we’re here, I would definitely use the light rail.”
On another side street, Jeanne Donovan watered carrots, beets and chives in her garden boxes, below 80-foot-tall evergreens.
“This is a really nice, quiet neighborhood and it’s not going to be the same. It’s causing a lot of consternation among the neighbors. People say ‘I like my neighborhood, I don’t want to move,’ ” she said. However, she was planning to move away for retirement in a few years, and considers the station good for the city.